There is an old saying: “I’m from Missouri; you have to show me.” This does not mean that Missourians are slow to learn. Rather, it means that they do not easily take someone’s word without some form of verification. They are not unique in this. Actually, many of us are very much like the Missourians; we too want concrete evidence before we are willing to accept certain claims.
Those who share these somewhat skeptical sentiments have a patron saint in the apostle Thomas. Though he is sometimes referred to as doubting Thomas, he was not a man without faith. But he was unwilling to accept the resurrection of Jesus on the word of the other disciples. He wanted concrete proof; he wanted to see for himself and to touch the wounds. How can we blame him? No one really expected that Jesus would rise from the dead. It seems to have come as a surprise. As for Thomas, after his experience of the risen Lord, his enthusiastic testimony was a remarkable declaration of faith in Christ’s divinity. He cried out: “My Lord and my God!”
Generally speaking, our faith comes to us through the words of others. We hear them at home, in school, at church and from many corners of our lives. If we ever challenge aspects of the faith, it is usually because we judge them to be irrelevant. Thomas, on the other hand, was skeptical about what was told him because he thought the message was too good to be true. We, on the other hand, may be so familiar with the news of the Resurrection that we cease to be amazed by it. If this is the case, we certainly need a patron saint like Thomas.
The readings for the Sundays after Easter are meant to provide catechesis or religious instruction, primarily for the newly baptized. But we all can benefit from this teaching. There are several lessons in the readings for today. The first concerns our responsibility for handing on the religious tradition that has been handed down to us. As Christians, we are all called to this responsibility, regardless of our age, our occupation or our state in life. How is this to be done? Actually, the ways are quite simple. We hand it on through our teaching, whether it is done formally or informally; we proclaim the message as we live out its ethical values. What we say and how we act proclaims, “We have seen the Lord.”
A second lesson to be learned today concerns the role the Christian community plays in our lives. Community-based societies, like those described in the Bible, are well aware of the importance of belonging to a group. Membership gives identity, meaning and support. Today’s readings confirm this. There is a communal dimension to every post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus. In fact, Thomas’s predicament was a consequence of his absence from the community of disciples a week earlier. In the first reading, while Peter is a prominent figure, the miracles were performed by all the apostles. God’s concern is for the entire people. We who live in a society that values an exaggerated form of individualism have much to learn about being members of the body of Christ.
The first reading for today provides us with yet another lesson. It illustrates how the power of the Resurrection working through ordinary people can effect miracles. Some might think this is too bold a claim. And yet a friendly smile, a gentle touch, a willingness to forgive have healed more than one broken spirit; and the challenging words of a parent, a teacher or a friend have quickened many minds and hearts. We have all witnessed such miracles with our own eyes; we ourselves may have even been touched by them. Why are we so afraid, then, to believe that we can make a difference in our world?
In the reading from the Book of Revelation, the visionary named John describes an extraordinary experience he had while living in banishment in the penal colony on the island of Patmos. Not even incarceration could prevent the spread of the Gospel. John’s preaching days might have been over, but he could still write. The scene described is of extraordinary splendor, and there in the midst of it all was “one like a son of man,” presumably the risen Christ. The message is even more astounding than the vision itself. Death has been overcome; Jesus the Christ is now alive forever. It is the same message that Thomas first found so hard to accept. It is the message that we are called to live out in our lives, so that through us others will be able to exclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”